A little pop geography

Mediactive: Ideas, Knowledge Culture - Mediactive: Ideas, Knowledge Culture - Mediactive: Ideas, Knowledge Culture - Mediactive: Ideas, Knowledge Culture
April 21, 2006

If you want to know what is happening in the world and what to do about it, read Mediactive , a journal whose first four issues deal with education, celebrity, asylum and the Iraq War. All right, that is an exaggeration, but some of the contributions will certainly get you thinking. W. H. Auden wrote that "we must love one another or die"; new Labour thinks we must modernise or die.

A number of essays focus on what this means for our understanding of the idea of knowledge. How does it differ from information? Is its value economic or cultural? I was intrigued by Alan Finlayson's suggestion that the knowledge economy relies on ignorance. "Because I do not know how to cook, I buy ready-meals and cook books." A case for boys to take classes in food technology, then.

One of the most notorious recent examples of ignorance is Jade Goody, a former contestant on Big Brother , who did not know where East Anglia was.

"It's abroad, isn't it?" But there is more to life than knowing the location of Lowestoft. And there is more to a society than an efficient economy. But, argue a number of contributors, if the corporate takeover of schools and universities continues, we will forget what that is.

The existence of Big Brother suggests we already have. Apparently the show's real significance is that it is a form of social mobility because it allows even ordinary mortals to achieve celebrity status. So that is all right, then. There is just no escaping Tony Blair. Oscar Reyes examines how he has used his family to portray himself as an ordinary bloke. But families cannot always be relied on to surround you with a wholesome glow. Just look at Mrs Blair's controversial purchase of two flats in Bristol.

From Cheriegate to the problems celebrities face when they try to "multitask". Kay Dickinson says we should not criticise pop stars who want to act because that just reinforces conservative value systems that keep people in their place. Duly chastised, I am going to reinforce democratic ones by saying that Britney Spears is as good an actress as she is a singer. If that does not have the desired effect, we could go along with Jeremy Gilbert's suggestion that we dispose with celebrity culture altogether and immerse ourselves in "collective creativity, horizontal organisation and participative experience". It is a great idea, but I do not have the energy.

Can children cope with images of war? asks Cynthia Carter in her piece on young people's response to the reporting of the Iraq War. She concludes that they are far better able to cope than we imagine, but their desire to understand is not taken seriously. Meanwhile, Paul Rixon wonders whether the web will help mobilise opposition to the war or whether the military will find ways to manipulate it to their advantage.

Among the casualties of war are asylum seekers. Richard Payne gives a chilling view of how private prisons have profited from their misery. Jonathan Rutherford sees them as symbols of modernity, wanting a better life but losing security in the process. Nira Yuval-Davies reminds us they are people first, symbols second.

Highly readable, often penetrating and sometimes autobiographical, Mediactive is one of the more sane offerings in the crazy world of cultural studies.

Gary Day is principal lecturer in English, De Montfort University.

Mediactive: Ideas, Knowledge Culture: Knowledge/Culture

Editor - Jonathan Rutherford
Publisher - Barefoot Publications
Price - £8.00 per issue
ISBN - 085315 972 6

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